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Thoughts on Self Publishing?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Nathan J. Lauffer, Mar 23, 2011.

  1. TWErvin2 said:

    Thanks. I think this is true, and am grateful to have started two years ago, and not last week.

    Also, I wholeheartedly agree with your points about a quality product, and how that intersects with luck.

    Kevin O. McLaughlin said:

    Also agreed. I'm pretty sure there's no way to success through either path except by courage and determination. Maybe if I think of it as a Quest.... :)

    And thank you for writing your perspectives on the two sides; that gave me a lot to think about.

    This probably won't be most people's perspective, but I find that the two paths terrify me to an approximately equal extent. And attract me likewise, neither really overpowering the other. (Which means I could stand at this fork in the road for an eternity... but I will move forward! I promise.) So if any of you really wanted to persuade people to follow (or not to follow) your path, what would you say about the road and the golden city at the end of it?

    Not to discount the excellent ten pages of discussion thus far, and there's no obligation to reiterate already well-expressed ideas for the indecisive. :p It's just clear that there are strong feelings on this topic, and I'm curious whether this question will bring out additional thoughts.
  2. If I had something new to say, it'd be this:

    Back in 1997, a friend and I co-created a non-fiction book. It was published by a regular commercial publisher. I have to say, going into a B&N and seeing a book on the shelf there that had MY name in it was pretty thrilling. =)

    But yesterday, I got back my proof copy of my first completely self-made print novel. *I* made the cover. *I* did the interior design. And of course, I wrote the book. ;) And I'm having a hard time thinking which was the bigger thrill - seeing my own work, finished, polished, and professional-looking; or seeing my work on that B&N shelf.

    Now, I've got backgrounds which include some time doing both print layout and graphic design professionally. So in many ways, the new sort of writing is like a "perfect storm" for me - I've done art, I've done layout, I love writing, and I've run three businesses already. So none of this is entirely new - just new enough to be exciting and interesting, but not so new as to feel alien or frightening.

    But then again, maybe how I'm feeling now, with my background, is just how you'd feel with no background in those skills after practicing them for a year or two. And let me tell you, it's amazingly fun. ;)
  3. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    If one goes straight to self-publishing without attempting to get published the 'traditional' route, might that same writer wonder down the road if they could have found a publisher, maybe one of the big houses? One could argue that if you find great success with self-publishing, that traditional route remains open...but that is a very rare occurrence and not one to be counted on.

    I believe you're correct, Jenna St. Hilaire, in that it's not necessarily an easy choice--both sides having some potential drawbacks.

    I think you'll find that the strongest advocates for the 'traditional' route are those that have found some success that way. I think you'll find the strongest advocates of the self-published route are those that have found some success that way.

    But there are far many more writers who have tried the 'traditional' route and didn't find a publisher than those that did. You may not hear them touting the traditional route as loudly as those that have found some success.

    There are also many more self-published authors that went that route but don't manage to sell many copies beyond the circle of family, friends and acquaintances. You may not hear them praising the path they took as loudly as those that have found success beyond that.

    A writer has to look at themselves and examine their goals.

    Submitting to agents/publishers takes time with odds stacked against the writer. But while you're doing that, write something else. It's hard to break in, but not impossible.

    There are no true gates or barriers to self-publishing. One can succeed without too much effort or technical skill, getting a work out there, electronic and/or print format. More money up front can garner assistance with editing/cover art/formatting if it's needed. But what happens once it's on the market with the ocean of other self-published works...that's where the high odds are back loaded as compared to front-loaded with the traditional route.

    But, in the end, a quality work and diligence will have a lion share of influence on success with either route. A little luck, maybe, but it's more placing yourself in a position through hard work, developing necessary talent and skills, and professionalism to take advantage of that potential bit of luck.

    For me, the tradtional route is where it's at. But that's me.
  4. I agree with very nearly everything you wrote, but this bit I have trouble with. I'm not sure quite what you mean by back-loaded instead of front-loaded... But remember, ALL books are ending up in the same ocean of works, now. Side by side. Self published or otherwise.

    That's really the difference which has made self publishing viable today, when even two years ago it basically was not.
  5. Thanks, guys! You've given me loads and loads to think about. I've really appreciated this discussion. :)
  6. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

    I don't have too much info on this, but from what I gather, is self-publishing not akin to Indie music? For the most part, worse production, lower chance to succeed, word of mouth as a main factor, have to take on your own costs. Seems like the same thing. Don't get me wrong, my two favorite bands- Dispatch and State Radio, and another of my favorite, Barefoot Truth, are indie bands, and they have had a fair amount of success in the industry (although SR has piggybacked to an extent off of Dispatch as the frontman was also one of the trio in Dispatch). But there is a lot of Indie music that, frankly, is crap, and even good indie artists struggle to make a lot of money.
  7. Those things are all much more easily dealt with when it comes to publishing. Not that it's trivial, but:

    • worse production: With the rise of e-publishing, it's relatively easy for an indie e-book to be exactly as good quality as one from a big publishing house. It just takes some time (to do research and practice, mainly, and some free software), which indie authors tend to have in great supply. Physical publishing is another story, but there are plenty of small indie publishers out there who are more likely to take a risk on a new author.
    • lower chance to succeed: Depends what you mean by "succeed." If one of the Big Six isn't interested in your book, no matter whether or not there'd actually be an audience for it, then you have a 0% chance to succeed. Getting past the gatekeepers is a tough job. Whereas if you publish yourself, you might find some small audience. For me, personally, I can afford to never "succeed" -- I make a good living at my primary job, and I'm happy to continue working there as long as necessary for my writing career to take over as my primary source of income.
    • word of mouth as main factor: True; marketing is expensive, but if you've got good quality, word of mouth might be all you need. (And keep in mind that self-publishing is a way to get past the gatekeepers; if you can show that you can sell books without the help of a big publisher, one of them might be willing to take a chance on you.)
    • have to take on your own costs: The costs beyond time are pretty low for writing. ;-)

    Most artists struggle to make a lot of money. Not all acts that go through big publishers (either in books, music, etc.) necessarily make a great living. It's a job, and there's a lot of competition.
  8. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

    I agree with and understand most of what you're saying here but I disagree to a point with this one:

    I think you misunderstood me. I'm not saying that signed artists are guaranteed to become rich but it is much more likely that they make money. Even some of the more successful indie musicians don't come close (for the most part) to the mainstream artists, most of which (in my personal opinion) have a very average sound. Lyrically, mainstream music is especially weak, except for some rap. And I'm getting way off topic. What I'm trying to say here is that it is much easier to make money as a signed artist or traditionally published author. Am I off base?
  9. No, I totally agree with that. However, it's much harder to become a signed artist than it is to publish independently. To throw out some (made-up) numbers:

    In the set S of people who want to write for a living, 1% (set T) are able to publish through big publishers. Of that group (T), almost all of them make a decent or better living.

    Of that same set S, 99% (let's call this set Q) must either publish independently or not at all. Most people in set Q will not make enough money writing for that to be their primary source of income... but some will, and let's call that group (people who publish independently and make a living at it) set X. Set X is probably going to be larger than set T, if it isn't already.

    I think it's safe to say that virtually no one would choose to publish independently versus going through a big publisher if they could pick. But most people never get that choice, so the writers who are in set Q have to publish independently if they want to publish at all.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2011
  10. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

    I agree with everything you just said, Benjamin, I think we just misunderstood each other at first. That was a really good way to explain it by the way, so thanks. And by no means am I knocking self-publishing, I don't have nearly enough experience to have an opinion on that issue, or anything else really (which brings up the question, why would any of you listen to me?)

    On another note, I apologize to everyone that is getting sick of my ignorant self being all over the message boards. I think I have a predeliction for addictive behavior. This forum is my thing for the moment, which is probably preventing my followers on twitter from murdering me for the moment.
  11. I think the indie music comparison is fairly appropriate.

    Like indie music, indie writing has a wide range of quality - from kids in the garage to full pros, from novices at writing to bestselling novelists.

    Like indie music, indie writing has seen technology break the barriers of cost in production. A kid with a computer can compose, record, and upload music to sell. Likewise, anyone can now upload an ebook or even POD print book.

    Like indie music, indie writing has seen an enormous number of failures - mostly people who did not create quality work, or who did not learn some aspect of the business involved, or who produced just one thing (song or book) and assumed that was enough.

    Like music, publishing is a field where a small number of companies still reap the majority of the sales. But like music, writing is a profession where a percentage of sales that would have been astonishing just a few years ago now belong to self publishers.
  12. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    I'm new to this forum and I've not read the whole thead - in particular because the landscape has changed a great deal between when it was first started and where the publishing business is now.

    There was a time when self-publishing was 'the last resort' after many attempts at traditional pubishing. When I self-published it wasn't because of that, it was more of a matter of I had to in order to make some deadlines (my small press could not get the second book out on time for a scheduled release date that already had book signings and book club readings scheduled for).

    I'm now traditionally published (my first book (Theft of Swords) is coming out in less than a month from Orbit - and I wouldn't have had the size of advance I received, nor the attention from the publisher if I had not first built an audience with my self publishing.
  13. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    Just because you are published through a big publisher doesn't mean you'll earn a decent living. Most advances for new fantasy authors range from $5,000 - $10,000 which is obviosuly not a living wage. And only 1 in 5 books earn out so for most people the advance is the only income they will receive. Many authors who are professionally published still have "day jobs".

    I may be an exception to the rule but I'm really not sure which way I'll go for "my next project". There are things I like about my big-six publishing expeirence (having others to do a lot of the work, seeing books in bookstores, a sense of validation), but there are also many things I like about my self publishing (full control, larger share of the sales price).

    When I started self-publishing it really wasn't a viable choice for earning a living. Now, you can make a living wage from self, small press, and big-six publishing so deciding which way to go really has ore to do with aligning your desired goals with a paricular platform. The good news is now there are options whereas in the past, big-six was really the only choice if you wanted any chance at making a living from wrinting.
  14. Fair enough; I was pulling numbers out of my, er, nether vortex. I don't know very much about the traditional publishing industry.

    My two priorities are: 1) control, 2) money. I have no interest in signing contracts that put any kind of burden on me. I realize that that may not mesh with what publishers, even small ones, want authors to do, and if that's the case, then oh well, I'll just stick with self-e-publishing (KDP, PubIt, iTunes) and earn whatever I can that way. And then maybe some day I'm big enough that I can dictate terms. ;-) My wife is good friends with someone who runs a small indie press that publishes (among other things) fantasy fiction, so I might go that route.

    Money isn't a huge priority because I have a day job that I really like, earning good money. I enjoy writing more, though, and I do want that to become my primary career, but I'm prepared in case it doesn't. In that eventuality, I've lost nothing (not even time spent, for I enjoy the writing process itself).

    I think this is what I was getting at; self-publishing gives you more options. The Big Six still exist, but now it's possible for a dedicated soul to get around them.
  15. Yup, what Michael said. Most novelists either write multiple books per year, often under multiple pen names, or they have some means of financial support other than writing.

    For myself...? I have one book trade published, but it was nonfiction and almost fifteen years ago. I'm interested in giving trade press another try, I think. The difference is that today I'll simply walk from anything except a good deal, because I know I can just self publish the book instead.

    And that's power. Power in the writer's hands. Even a few years ago, writers had to take what publishers offered, like it or not, because there were not a lot of other options. Today the writer has the power to say NO - because those options now exist.

    BTW, for those who don't know Michael yet, he's an awesome guy and an excellent fantasy writer. I don't know what lucky chance brought Mike over here, but he'd be an incredible asset to any community.
  16. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    Wow, thanks Kevin. I found the forum through a fantasy blogger...the reason I'm here is because in the past I was pretty clueless. Since I've now done each type of publishing, I thought I would at least share what I've experienced to shed some light on what can seem pretty mysterous sometimes.
  17. Matthew Bishop

    Matthew Bishop Scribe

    Wow, that took a while to read through. Lots of helpful ideas though. Thanks to everyone who has posted on this thread.

    So I'm completely anal about my books being the best they can be. I've been editing a stack of books that I've written, rewritten, and revised for the past ten years and had very little time to write. Now that I am worn out and confident about their final form, I'm reedy to publish the books-- but I've been away from the actual writing for so long that it's taking a toll on my health. I'm now devoting all my time trying to find a publisher or an agent-- I am thinking I might be better off e-selling the books, establishing a collection, and then hoping someone will notice the collection and pick up on me as a writer to represent me. That way I can get back to writing while marketing what I've already written on the side. I have marketed before-- I run a nonprofit media company so I have some alright connections.

    BUT, my ultimate goal in publishing will always be to get my story out there and make an impact. I want an agent someday, without any doubt. I want to be a career novelist. I am struggling with the most central question: If I e-publish or self-publish now, even with a great commitment to marketing, will it actually damage my chances of being picked up by an agent or published traditionally? There seems to be some bad blood between ebooks/POD and agents/Mass market
  18. A lot of writers are trying this; keep in mind that you don't have to wait for someone to notice. Once you establish some sales, you can say to an agent/publisher, "I've sold X thousand copies of my books on Amazon." (Or whatever number is high enough to help entice them.) Agents/publishers, when looking at new material, have to try to gauge (by reading it) whether it can sell, but if you take something that's already sold, they won't even have to read it. (Though they might anyway.)
  19. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    In today's climate it won't damage - and if you get decent sales will actually help. The average advance for a debut fantasy novel is $5,000 - $10,000...but because I self published first my three-book deal was six-figure. In the "old days" yeah some publishers didn't want the first publication rights cherry busted - but nowadays some look at self-publishing as a proving grounds.
  20. boboratory

    boboratory Minstrel


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